Searching for Patterns of Progression Through the Ranks

A CRITICAL CHARACTERISTIC of high-performance job candidates may be found in individuals' progression through the ranks. People who show progressive demonstrations of increased responsibilities understand how to add value to their companies over time. These are the proven performers who are capable of reinventing their jobs and assuming responsibilities above and beyond the call of duty. The fact that their achievements have been noticed and rewarded by their superiors makes these individuals capable of contributing to your organization over the long haul. (Promotion through the ranks, after all, is usually a function of longevity. You have to stay long enough in a company to receive recognition and added responsibilities.)

There's a unique way to bring out a candidate's progression through the ranks during the interview process. Most employers begin an interview by asking, ''So, Janet, tell me about what you do on your present job.'' Yes, that's an icebreaker, and it should get the candidate talking freely. However, the information you derive from asking that question adds little value to your meeting: You simply end up getting a laundry list of duties that are already highlighted in the resume. Also, you typically end up with only a generic job description that would fit anyone with that person's title.

Instead, try opening the question by using a progression indicator that invites candidates to describe their present duties in light of their historical advancement:

Can you describe how you've progressed through the ranks and landed in your current position at ABC Company?

Why Ask This Question?

This technique adds a historical context or perspective to the individual's current duties. Instead of simply focusing on her responsibilities as an accounting manager, for example, the candidate would address her various promotions leading up to her role in accounting management. All of a sudden, you've got a much deeper understanding of this individual s abilities to assume broader responsibilities via her progression through the ranks.

Analyzing the Response

Remember, many job candidates don't reveal progression on a resume. Instead, they simply list their last position held at each company. So if you don t ask for the history leading up to the person s present job, you'll lose that added dimension of progression. Here s how it works. Imagine you re sitting down with an accounting manager whose resume shows that she oversees a staff of eight people in payables, receivables, and payroll. Asking the question, ''So, Janet, tell me about your present job as accounting manager will reveal the following information, which you jot down in your notepad:

• Oversees 8 in A/P, A/R; general ledger; multistate payroll in 7 Western states for 100 employees

• ADP-generated quarterly tax reporting

• A/P—$12MM/mo; A/R—$14MM/mo

• Reports to controller; dotted-line reporting relationship to VP Finance

That s not bad information in terms of gathering technical reporting data and scope of responsibilities. But most of that information is probably already on the resume or employment application. So what clearer insights have you gained into this candidate's abilities to influence your company's future? Unfortunately, not too much. You have nothing more than historical facts.

How to Get More Mileage out of the Question. Now, let s see how this can become more valuable and telling simply by asking the question differently using the progression indicator: ''So, Janet, describe how you've progressed through the ranks and landed in your current position at ABC Company. Janet s feedback sounds something like this:

''Well, I began with the organization six years ago as a staff accountant. I did that job for about three years, but in that time my supervisor relied on me to handle a lot of work in his absence. I guess I took on what I'd call a team leader role in terms of running the office in his absence, and people generally came to me with the tougher questions that no one else seemed to be able to answer.

''After that, I was promoted to accounting supervisor and did that for the next two and a half years. The accounting supervisor to whom I originally reported left for an early retirement. He determined that I would be his logical replacement, and I was very happy to receive that promotion.

''Finally, about six months ago, we had some turnover, and the controller asked me to take on additional responsibilities as accounting manager. Since then, I've been overseeing a staff of eight people in accounts payable, accounts receivable, and payroll. I report directly to the controller with a dotted-line relationship to the vice president of finance, and I helped take our company through a software conversion that we completed just last month.''

Do you hear the difference that the progression indicator makes? You'll still end up with a thorough understanding of Janet's current primary and secondary responsibilities, reporting relationships, and scope of authority. But now you have time frames and accomplishments by which to measure them. In taking your notes on her employment application, your comments would look something like this:

1. Staff accountant (3 years)—assumed team leader responsibilities

2. Accounting supervisor (21/2 years)—after incumbent retired

3. Accounting manager (6 months)—asked by controller to oversee staff of 8 in A/P, A/R, and payroll; general ledger; directly reports to controller; dotted-line to VP Finance

Historically reframing a candidate's career progression will add new insights and dimensions to your evaluation. It should make your life easier when recommending this candidate to another member of your organization. And it will certainly facilitate your hiring decision seeing that another employer in a different company placed that much value in this individual.

But what if the candidate wasn't on her last job long enough to progress vertically through the ranks? Or what if she was there for six years and held the same job title over that entire period of time? Should that be held against her? If you ask a candidate to detail her historical progression over time and you get a response saying, Well, I started as an accounting manager, so I didn't really progress anywhere,'' then follow up your initial question like this.

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